Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 6, Number 21
May 25, 2006
Opinion + Analysis
Can you comprenderme now?
Local control, out of control
Teacher Pay Review
Kids in a candy store
This week, Mike and Rick discuss how schools should fund chunky students, what accountability has to do with science, and how long to keep Juan in a bilingual classroom. We interview National Council on Teacher Quality President Kate Walsh, and News of the Weird is a saucy mess. Who let the dogs out? This 15-minute podcast!
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / May 25, 2006
Why do the woes of the Education Commission of the States (ECS) put me in mind of the late Jane Jacobs?
Jacobs wrote what may have been the 20th Century's most influential book on urban planning, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. It appeared in 1961 even as bulldozers were destroying neighborhoods and historic buildings in the name of "urban renewal" and "civic progress" to make room for public housing, fancy new developments, sports arenas and such. Boston's West End was leveled in 1959. New York's grand Pennsylvania Station lasted five more years before the wrecker's ball hit. All the while, uber-planner Robert Moses was gearing up to drive an expressway through Greenwich Village and Washington Square.
Jacobs's book began to put a stop to Moses's plans, and more. She argued that living, breathing neighborhoods require a diversity of people who actually dwell in them and make them tick, who watch out for one another's children, for each other's welfare, and for public safety. Greenwich Village and Boston's North End were-and largely remain-testaments to her beliefs, as do many small towns and more than a few suburbs.
She was insightful. But it is also true that neighborhoods, towns, even entire cities, sometimes outlive their raison d'etre and more or less disappear. Recall the classic "ghost towns" of the west, after the mines ran dry. Villages on the northern plains where nobody under 60 wants to live today. The
Michael J. Petrilli / May 25, 2006
The latest results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in science are out, and they provide compelling evidence that accountability works. The old saying goes that "what gets tested gets taught." That's not quite right; what schools are held accountable for gets taught-and learned.
Take a look at the five "gold star" states that posted statistically significant gains since 2000 at both the fourth-grade and eighth-grade levels: California, Hawaii, Kentucky, South Carolina, and Virginia. Now take a gander at three states among the few in the nation that currently include science as part of their school accountability system: Kentucky, South Carolina, and Virginia. Spot a pattern
Much is made of the fact that No Child Left Behind will require all states to test students in science starting in 2007-2008. By our count, 31 states already have at least one science test in place. But it is these three states-where results on a science test count when determining a school's rating or accreditation-that are showing big gains. (True, that doesn't explain California or Hawaii, though perhaps the former's best-in-the-nation science standards [see here] deserve some credit.)
What's the lesson for policymakers, especially members of Congress? Simple: if they worry about achievement in science and want schools to focus on the subject, they need to add it to the accountability mix. As it currently stands, science won't "count" under NCLB-in terms of determining whether schools make Adequate Yearly
May 25, 2006
Education bigfeet Deborah Meier and Diane Ravitch have been at odds on school-related issues over the last thirty years. But when they recently met over lunch to prepare for a debate about No Child Left Behind, both were surprised by how much common ground they shared. While their solutions to disparate problems often differ, both recognize the seriousness of the same problems and the earnestness of the other side's arguments. What's more, both are able to acknowledge the flaws in their individual solutions and to identify the tradeoffs that must be made. They write, "Our differences helped us consider ways to rethink our ideas and find places where those holding different views might compromise, and perhaps learn to live under one umbrella. What we hope to model is the idea of democratic engagement, the notion that citizens need to think about and debate their beliefs and values with others who do not necessarily share all of them." In our age of American Idol episodes garnering more votes than American presidential elections, our young people would do well to take Meier and Ravitch's words to heart. So might you.
"Bridging Differences," by Deborah Meier and Diane Ravitch, Education Week, May 24, 2006 (subscription required)
May 25, 2006
South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford thinks he's found the solution to the state's school funding disparities. The Palmetto State's current model, he says, "disadvantages rural South Carolina." But a system "where you were funding kids and you put the money in the kid ... would lead to complete portability ... and equity." In other words, Sanford wants to delegate responsibility for education funding to the state (instead of to school districts) and then distribute the dollars based on the educational needs of individual students, not the tax base of the district in which they reside. As students change schools, their funding follows them. This is called "weighted student funding (WSF)," various forms of which exist in a few cities-including Cincinnati and San Francisco. But to date, no entire state has implemented it. That's a bit surprising, because WSF holds advantages for both liberals and conservatives. It's a fair way to solve funding inequities between districts, and by allowing money to follow individual students, it also opens the door to more school choice. In late June, look for a new Fordham report on weighted student funding and how it can work for states such as South Carolina. Governor Sanford, you're at the top of our mailing list!
"How Sanford's vision of 'choice' can fit with tax reform, school progress," by Cindi Ross Scoppe, The State, May 16, 2006
May 25, 2006
Massachusetts's most recent test results show that non-native English speakers have trouble functioning in a regular classroom, and bilingual education activists are hyping the news like Don King promoting a Tyson fight. According to the Boston Globe, three years after the Bay State ended bilingual education in favor of English immersion, "Eighty-three percent of children in grades 3 through 12 could not read, write, speak, or understand English well enough for regular classes after their first year in Massachusetts schools." To be sure, some districts enjoyed success with the immersion method. More than half the limited-English students in affluent Newton, for example, achieved fluency within a year. Not surprisingly, urban areas with concentrated numbers of limited-English students (and generally dysfunctional school systems) fared worse. One bilingual education proponent and (surprise!) ed school professor declared, "Empirically, kids are definitely worse off now." We're not so sure. English immersion is no silver bullet, but forcing children to languish in interminable bilingual programs certainly didn't work either. Combining immersion with plenty of support is more like it, sí?
"Bilingual law fails first test," by Maria Sacchetti and Tracy Jan, Boston Globe, May 21, 2006
May 25, 2006
Few chapters in American history are more painful than the Atlantic slave trade. Historian Sheldon Stern, author of Fordham's Effective State Standards for U.S. History: A 2003 Report Card, is certainly aware of that. "For nearly two and a half centuries," he writes in the current issue of Academic Questions, "the overwhelming majority of black people in America were classified as ‘chattel slaves'.... After the abolition of slavery, black Americans had to endure a century of segregation...that thwarted the chance to earn a decent living, get an education, shop or eat in a public facility, and even vote." But he's also aware that the Atlantic slave trade was larger than what transpired in the United States. And his new paper is a call for American educators to do a better job covering the entire sordid affair-from the internal trade in Africa to the selling of slaves in the shadows of the U.S. Capitol. A provocative subject, no doubt, but one with a history that deserves a detailed and truthful telling. The article, entitled "The Atlantic Slave Trade-The Full Story," is not currently available online, but you can order a copy (though it will take some effort) by contacting Metapress, here.
May 25, 2006
Last month, when Chicago's South Loop School held elections for its local school council, voters were surprised to witness "a ‘smelly' crew of disheveled men, some reeking of alcohol," punching ballots. The situation further deteriorated when one man asked the school's principal, "Where do we get our five dollars for voting?" Some foul play was afoot. It was no surprise, therefore, when Enrique Perez and Jacques Eady (who ran for the council as a team) were both elected and subsequently accused of buying votes of "addicts, users, and alcoholics" who live in a flophouse near the school. Flophouse resident Renee Day told authorities he and several housemates were offered five dollars each to vote for Perez and Eady. Day, however, "realized he did something wrong ... so he voted for the opposing slate." Some current council members want the election totals invalidated, but because the Illinois School Code makes no mention of vote-buying, the results may stand-local control at its finest.
"Were addicts given $5 for school votes?," by Rosalind Rossi, Chicago Sun-Times, May 20, 200
Martin A. Davis, Jr. / May 25, 2006
National Council on Teacher Quality
We know what it takes to teach reading. Thirty years of research have shown time and again that teaching young children to read is a science, and for it to take, certain steps must be followed sequentially. Because upwards of 40 percent of U.S. children fail to learn to read (a group comprised of youngsters of all races and economic backgrounds), one would expect universities to work double time to ensure that future educators possess the tools they'll need to teach reading well. Wrong. That's the central finding of this disturbing new study by the National Council on Teacher Quality. The survey upon which the report is built is notable for its breadth (72 schools representing the range of college selectivity in America were reviewed, and 222 required courses and their syllabi were studied). It looked at course materials to find how often professors who train future K-5 teachers lectured on the science of teaching reading. Despite generous grading parameters (passing grades could be earned even if a professor devoted just 20 percent of lectures to the science of reading), just 11 of the institutions surveyed (or 15 percent) taught all five components of the science of reading as codified by the National Reading Panel (phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension). Among the prominent schools failing their education students: the University of Iowa and the University of North Carolina. There are eight other
May 25, 2006
Florida Department of Education
Florida gets a lot of grief for its low ranking in national surveys of average teacher salaries. But this study by the state's education department posits that such comparisons of teacher pay are unfair and don't account for the wide variations in how analysts calculate average salaries. The report examines studies of teacher salaries-including those by the NEA, AFT, and NCES-and also investigates how fourteen other states (some in the Southeast, others with demographic similarities to Florida) calculate their average teacher pay. It found that "valid and reliable comparisons of states' teacher salaries continue to elude statisticians and researchers across the country." Why? Because states arrive at their individual average teacher salaries in wildly different ways. Seven of the fifteen states surveyed (Georgia, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee) include bonuses in their calculations, and four (Connecticut, Georgia, Kentucky, and Tennessee) include supplemental pay. And all but two of the states in question (Florida and Texas) have state income taxes. Thus, the average teachers in those thirteen taxed states have take-home paychecks thousands of dollars lower than their reported salaries suggest. Further complicating matters is that states not only vary in their definitions of "average salary" but also in their definition of "teacher." Florida counts all instructional staff-librarians, social workers, guidance counselors, etc.-in its average teacher salary calculations, while Georgia and North Carolina count only classroom educators. In short, the report illustrates that
May 25, 2006
Katherine L. Hughes and Melinda Mechur Karp
American Association of Community Colleges
This report summarizes current state policies and practices to facilitate student transition from secondary to post-secondary schools and work, an instructional division that the authors would like to see disappear. The report argues not for a leap from one style of schooling to another but for a smooth path combining academic and technical coursework across levels. Because this isn't reality in most states, the authors write, we experience such undesirable outcomes as high dropout rates. The report finds that high school career and technical education (CTE), for example, remains mostly separate from traditional academic programs, despite longstanding efforts to integrate the two. This is a problem, because for CTE to succeed, its students must have just as rigorous an academic education as those in college-prep courses. Some states are finding innovative ways to integrate different educational options. Missouri's school accreditation programs, for example, require that CTE provides dual credit. Although the report doesn't give much new information, it does a decent job summarizing current state policies and commenting on their successes and failures. It's online here.